America’s Most Common Workplace Injury

When you think about the phrase “workplace injury,” you may envision serious and debilitating injuries, such as an amputated limb or a damaged back. You might picture someone in a wheelchair whose injury has left him or her visibly handicapped. It’s true that these types of injuries often get a lot of attention in the media when they occur, but they’re not the most common type of workplace injury in the United States. That dubious honor goes to a surprising recipient – America’s most common workplace injury is actually hearing loss.

Statistics on Workplace Hearing Loss

The facts and statistics about work-related hearing loss are alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2007, American workers reported over 23,000 cases of work-related hearing loss that were serious enough to lead to a hearing impairment. Eighty-two percent of work-related hearing loss cases that year were in the manufacturing industry.

Most people know that exposure to loud noise over a long period of time can cause hearing loss. According to the CDC, ten million people in the United States have some form of noise-related hearing loss, and four million workers go to work every day in environments with noise levels loud enough to damage hearing. Every year, 22 million American workers encounter damaging levels of noise on the job.

According to a report from the US Department of Labor (DOL), American businesses spend over $1.5 million in 2015 to pay out fines and damages for inadequately protecting their workers from damaging levels of noise. The DOL’s rough estimate for the amount spent yearly on workers’ compensation claims involving permanent disability from hearing loss is around $242 million.

Causes of Workplace Hearing Loss

Clearly, hearing loss should be a serious concern for workers, especially those in manufacturing or other industries and jobs that routinely involve exposure to extremely loud noise. But what exactly causes hearing loss and what types of jobs are most at risk?

Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, can have a number of different causes. For example, a single exposure to an extremely loud noise, known as an “impulse” sound, can cause hearing loss. Alternatively, repeatedly and long-term exposure to loud noises, such as the noise of woodworking machines, can cause hearing loss to develop over an extended period of time.

Scientists measure sound waves in decibels. As a frame of reference, the noise level of normal conversation between two people is about 60 decibels. Long-term exposure to noise levels of 85 decibels or higher puts someone at risk for hearing loss. According to a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, some industries that routinely expose workers to noise levels higher than 85 decibels include:

  • Mining
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Agriculture

Most of these industries require workers to use or work near loud machinery for extended periods of time, which is a major risk factor for developing noise-related hearing loss.

Solutions to the Hearing Loss Problem

Fortunately, with proper safety precautions on the part of both workers and their employers, businesses and employees can prevent most work-related hearing loss injuries. It’s important for workers to understand what types of levels and noise can cause hearing damage so they recognize damaging noise levels when they encounter them.

Workers who regularly work around loud machines or in other noisy environments should take proper protection by wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to block out the high levels of noise. Employers should be proactive in providing their workers with information and protection to avoid hearing loss injuries.

If you suspect your hearing has been impaired due to workplace conditions, discuss your issue with your physician. He or she will be able to diagnose the hearing loss and offer preventative options for the future. You may also be entitled to compensation for your injuries so speak with a seasoned Austin personal injury lawyer who can help you understand your available legal options.